Started in 1925, the Scripps National Spelling Bee is now televised nationally and students have gone from studying the dictionary to using highly paid coaches and computers.
The spellers that make up this competition come not only from the 50 states, but also the U.S. territories and other countries, including Canada, Mexico, China, Japan and New Zealand. In 1998, Jody-Anne Maxwell of Jamaica became the bee’s first non-American winner.
Just over half of the winners have been female (51%), and most are in their last year of competing (13 to 14 years old). Most winning words were nine letters in length, while the longest one was scherenschnitte (15 letters), spelled in 2015 by Vanya Shivashankar.
One of the most interesting trends in the bee in recent years, however, is the streak of Indian-American winners: 11 in a row and 19 in the last 23 years. The documentary “Breaking the Bee” examines this curiosity, which the filmmaker explained to CBS News as a “perfect storm of events,” including a change in immigration policy after 1965 that allowed for highly educated people to enter the United States, the creation of a community of spellers inspired by the early winners, and the bee’s televisation.
To identify every Spelling Bee winning word over the last 20 years, 24/7 Tempo consulted the Scripps Bee website. Definitions were also taken from the competition’s official site. For pronunciations, we checked online dictionaries such as Merriam-Webster.